Paid Parental Leave: The Status of Women 50 Years Later

logoFifty years ago the President’s Commission on the Status of Women recommended that paid maternity leave be provided to improve conditions for working women. While the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was an important step in improving access to leave for new parents, the United States is still without a federal maternity or family leave statute. This month, the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor released a full paper series commemorating the 50th Anniversary of American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. As part of this series, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) prepared a paper that reviews data on the benefits of paid parental leave from the perspectives of individuals, families, employers, and the economy overall.

The report found that paid family and medical leave programs can have significant benefits to individuals, to businesses, and communities.

Economic Benefits

  • Improved Labor Force Attachment:
    • Women who are offered paid leave are more likely to return to the labor force in the year after they give birth than women who are not offered paid leave. Additionally, paid leave has been shown to have a positive effect on post-birth work outcomes.
  • Costs and Benefits to Firms:
    • Paid leave leads to negligible costs to employers in terms of temporary employee replacement costs or overtime paid to existing employees and has much greater potential gains in terms of employee morale and productivity.
  • Expands Economic Growth:
    • Paid leave can lead to increased labor force participation, increased fertility rates, and reduced spending on public assistance. Family friendly policies can help push the economy towards gender equality in the labor force, therefore mitigating the effects of a shrinking, aging workforce and increasing GDP.

Health Benefits

  • Increases initiation and length of breastfeeding:
    • Breastfeeding can increase bonding between the child and nursing mother, stimulate positive neurological and psycho-social development, and strengthen a child’s immune system. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of health problems and disease.
  • Reduction in the risk for infant mortality
  • Increases well-baby care and vaccination rates
  • Improves mother’s emotional well-being and mental health
  • Maternity leave allows mothers to increase the quality of care given to her child and can help prevent postpartum depression and stress

Family benefits

  • Greater paternal engagement in caregiving:
    • Fathers who take time from work around childbirth are more likely to spend more time with their newborns, which could reduce stress on the family and contribute to father-infant bonding.

FMLA, which provides men and women with job-protected leave for a number of caregiving purposes, has provided many American workers with unpaid leave for moments when family had to come first. But the law falls short of what families really need: universal coverage and income.

To qualify for FMLA you must work for a company with at least 50 employees and have worked 1,250 hours in the past year. That means part-time workers and small business employees aren’t protected. And most working families can’t afford to take two months off of work without income forcing many to choose between caring for their family or providing for them.

According to the report, the U.S. is “the only high-income country, and one of only eight in the world, that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns”. Moving forward, IWPR urges the U.S. to catch up to other developed nations and address today’s workforce realities for both mothers and fathers through more comprehensive legislation. A paid family leave and medical insurance law would help build a more productive workforce, promote economic competitiveness, and bring substantial health benefits to individuals, employers, and society.

Workers, Business Owners, Electeds Travel to White House Summit on Working Families

Local Leaders in the Fight for Paid Sick Days, Family Leave and Equal Pay Bring Campaign to the other Washington

WhiteHouseSummitWashington workers, business owners and elected leaders will bring experiences from their fight for paid leave and equal pay laws to the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Washington’s White House Summit delegation includes working families champion Representative Laurie Jinkins, retail worker and Tacoma sick days advocate Amanda DeShazo, restaurant owner Makini Howell and Washington Work and Family Coalition leader Marilyn Watkins.

At the pre-summit forum at Tacoma Community College Wednesday evening, local women shared stories about the challenges facing working women and families. Wendy Banks, a meat cutter at a local grocery store, shared how she had to repeatedly lobby management in order to be trained in the profession traditionally dominated by men. “My dad was a meat cutter. I worked in the meat department for years, but every time I applied for training as a cutter, there was some excuse why I was denied. Then I found out that men without any grocery experience were being hired straight into the role. I filed a grievance, and finally got a shot at the higher paying job.”

Di Inman, co-owner of Positive Approach Dog Training and Daycare, described growing up with a breadwinner mother who could not take a day off when her kids were sick. “We’ve offered paid sick leave and fair wages from the time we bought our business,” said Inman. “Because we prioritize our employees, morale is high and our business has grown. No one has abused our policies. When you treat people wonderfully, they become wonderful people!”

State Representative Tami Green and Senator Jeannie Darneille also shared personal experiences that have convinced them that adopting legislation for paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance is critical for women and families. “Our state’s prosperity depends on women’s economic security and success,” said Green.

Nearly 1 million workers in Washington don’t have access to a single paid sick day, and only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce has access to paid family leave to welcome a new child or care for an ailing parent. Washington women earn just 78 cents on every dollar – amounting to $10 billion in lost annual income due to the pay gap. Policies like paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance and equal pay laws build economic security for working women and families.

“A 21st century workforce needs a 21st century workplace – the White House Summit will bring together local and national leaders ready to make that happen,” stated Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute and leader of the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but our workplaces haven’t caught up with that reality. Paid leave – whether to welcome a new baby or care for a sick child – and equal pay protections are key policy reforms that will help women and families thrive.”

At the Summit, President Obama will join activists, workers, caregivers and other elected officials from the Family Values @ Work network and elsewhere to focus on creating a workplace that works for all. The president has made the women’s economic agenda a critical component of his efforts to rebuild the economy. In his 2014 State of the Union, he called for an end to ‘Mad Men’-era policies, and in a recent appearance in Orlando he urged Congress to bring the United States in line with “every other advanced nation on Earth by offering paid leave to folks who work hard every day.”

President Obama’s leadership reflects growing national momentum and grassroots advocacy for policies that value families. Last year, three cities – New York City, Portland and Jersey City – passed paid sick days laws, joining San Francisco, Seattle, D.C. and the state of Connecticut. So far this year, Newark passed a similar ordinance and New York City expanded its sick leave law. Citywide laws or ballot initiatives are currently under consideration in Chicago, Eugene, Ore , Tacoma, San Diego, Oakland and several places in New Jersey; and statewide initiatives are gaining steam in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Also in 2013, Rhode Island joined California and New Jersey in passing paid family leave, with Washington, New York, Colorado and other states considering similar legislation.

“Together, we can make our families healthier and stronger,” stated Rep. Laurie Jinkins who sponsored the statewide paid sick leave bill this year. “At the White House, I’ll be sharing stories from business leaders who tell me that high-road employment practices – like sick leave or fair pay – are common  sense, effective and smart ways to both do right by their employees and ensure their company’s long-term success.”

The day after Mother’s Day: An overdue economic gift for moms

mom-and-workMost kids today grow up with their mom in the workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two-thirds of new mothers now return to paid work within a year after giving birth, usually in the first few months.

Back in the 1960s, fewer than one in five new mothers held a paying job. In those days, while the middle class was expanding rapidly, the majority of families had one breadwinner and one fulltime homemaker. Unfortunately, we still organize our economy as if “women’s work” had little economic value and every family had a fulltime caregiver.

Women have gained tremendous new opportunities in the 50 years since Congress banned employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Jobs and activities once reserved exclusively for men are open. So are educational pathways. Women now make up a majority of college graduates and roughly half the workforce. Instead of earning only 60 cents to a man’s dollar, women working fulltime now earn 77 cents.

But most of that progress was made last century. Since 2000, women’s career and earnings gains have largely stalled.

Men and women still tend to pursue different careers. Here in King County, men hold eight in ten computer and math-related jobs and three-fourths of police and fire department jobs. Women make up two-thirds of health technicians and office administrators and 90% of childcare workers. The typical woman in King County makes $15,000 less each year than the typical man.

Still, up to 40% of the wage gap cannot be explained by differences in jobs, hours worked, education or experience. Too often women get paid less than men in the same job simply because employers can get away with it.

On top of that, the United States, unlike every other advanced economy, leaves working families on their own to cope with care giving. Without uniform standards in place, four in ten workers get no paid sick leave and only half of working women get paid maternity leave – usually cobbled together from saved up sick leave and vacation.

Those with the highest pay are most likely to get paid leave benefits. They are also best able to afford the high cost of quality childcare, which can exceed college tuition – even though childcare teachers earn near-poverty wages.

Because women get paid less and have limited access to paid leave, families suffer bouts of economic insecurity. Staying home with the flu, or caring for a sick child or ailing parent too often means loss of needed income. Women go back to work before they’ve fully recovered from childbirth or established breastfeeding. They accumulate less for retirement and can’t save for their children’s education.

If women received fair pay and had access to paid sick days and to paid family and medical leave, kids would be healthier and better prepared for success in school and life. Fewer seniors would live in poverty. Local businesses would have more customers. Our communities and our democracy would be stronger.

Here’s my Mother’s Day wish list for Washington’s women:

  • Fair pay. Discussing compensation with coworkers should not be a fire-able offense. Employers should have to justify pay differences on some basis other than sex or race.
  • Paid Sick Days. We know that Seattle’s sick leave law has extended paid leave to tens of thousands, while the city’s economy has grown faster than the rest of the state. According to the latest UW study, 70% of Seattle business owners support the law. It’s time to take it statewide.
  • Family and Medical Leave Insurance. Five states already have programs. Women in these states take longer maternity leaves, suffer fewer health complications, are more likely to breastfeed and take their babies to medical checkups. They are less likely to go on public assistance and more likely to be working and earning higher wages a year after giving birth. Let’s pass Washington’s FAMLI Act in 2015.
  • We won’t get these done by Mother’s Day – but if everyone passes this list on to their state legislators and candidates, we can give them to our moms and ourselves for next Valentine’s Day.

Originally published in the South Seattle Emerald.